From the barren peat and granite moorland of Dartmoor to the East, onward to the maritime nursery of Plymouth …
… the 61 mile River Tamar separates the land between Cornwall and Devon fed by its tributaries, and leading us on a journey South. A land of panoramic drama leading through a geology of mudstone, siltstone and sandstone, with whispers of iron-age life, moving Southwards to the throne of our maritime heritage. In this our third blog, we’ll start following the rivers’ passage – a reference to places of interest, before moving East to wild Dartmoor.
The Tamars’ Passage
No visit to this area would be complete without heading into the rolling countryside North of Launceston, where Mandy and John Allen manage the 21 acre site of the Tamar Otter Park. British and Asian short clawed Otters live in eight enclosures whilst Muntjac and Fallow deer live in the sites’ woodland. Wallabies, Eagles and Owls are just some of the other live attractions.
Hilly Launceston is a friendly ancient capital of Cornwall. The 11th century and now ruinous ramparts of Launceston Castle, once controlled the route from England to Cornwall. The phantasmagoric views of the town and countryside as seen today, would once have allowed its guests to gaze over the old deer park. The 18 way-points of the town’s trail starts your factual and panoramic tour of this town at Walk House Car Park in Tower Street. Way-point 18, Lawrence House Museum, is housed in a Georgian house, containing a myriad of artefacts from bygone years. Launceston Steam Railway has a two and half mile stretch of narrow gauge track with 100 year old locomotives, built on the old bed of the North Cornwall Railway that once expressed through the Kensey Valley to the hamlet of Newmills. 16th century St Mary Magdalene Church is noted for its elaborate carved exterior.
Tavistock, the Western gateway to Dartmoor, has a 10th century Benedictine inheritance and a largely Victorian character. Sir Francis Drake was baptised in the 700 year old church. The renowned 900 year old Pannier market behind the Town Hall, has a prominent arts and crafts theme, alongside fresh produce, enclosed in a purpose built 19th century market hall. Bedford Square hosts the Farmers Market every 2nd, 4th and 5th Saturday, displaying a variety of produce from both sea and land.
Four miles Southeast of Tavistock is the historic river port of Morwellham Quay. Bordering the Tamar, it’s today a world heritage site, featuring a historic port, village, copper mine and railway. Visitors can dress in Victorian costume, attend the Victorian school, pan for gold, bake and refresh in the period pub. Local 334 metre Kit Hill is where you will experience some of Cornwall’s most fantastic views. Being the highest point in the Tamar Valley, you will spot Dartmoor, Bodmin Moor, Plymouth and the Eddystone lighthouse on Rame Head.
Medieval Cotehele House is a fortified manor house with Tudor additions now owned by the National Trust. It is established on a high ‘bluff’ – a broad, rounded cliff – on the Cornish side of the Tamar. Its location gave natural protection from assault, although these days it sees more peaceable visitors.
At Saltash there dominates a significant feat of 19th century engineering. Two lenticular iron trusses would have carried the Cornish main line steam express from England into Cornwall for 2000 feet, suspended 100 feet above the Tamar. Isambard Kingdom Brunel built this, the Royal Albert Bridge, all in time for its opening in 1859. It remains a railway bridge today with the A38 and the Tamar Bridge cycle path as neighbours. Boat trips and parking are offered locally at Saltash.
Cosmopolitan Plymouth, home of valorous seafarers, stands four hours from London by train on the South Coast, assuring the largest pedestrianised city centre in the UK. The National Marine Aquarium contains a fascinating variety of sea-life. Eddystone reef tank shows off local sea-life from Plymouth Sound, with an exemplification of marine life from across the globe including some 70 sharks. The aquarium drives marine conservation and teaches its visitors how to protect the environment. Plymouth is renowned for Gin, imbibed by the British Navy. Blackfriars Gin Distillery is Britains’ oldest distillery dating from 1793. The distillery tour takes the visitor on a journey of fermented discovery where Gin was the drink of choice for British Naval officers. Navy strength Gin at 57% proof, would not stop gunpowder igniting if spilt. The Refectory room, a medieval hall and oldest building in Plymouth, is said to be where the pilgrim fathers’ spent their last night before sailing on the Mayflower to the new world. Sir Francis Drake was the Mayor here in Plymouth and Vice Admiral of British fleet that defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588. Plymouth Hoe is 5 minutes from the city, where Sir Francis in the same year was playing a game of bowls. He insisted he could complete the game before the battle and still defeat the Armada. He was of course true to his word and history was made. 1759 Smeatons’ lighthouse has been reconstructed brick by brick from its former vantage point out at sea, affording views of the natural harbour of Plymouth Sound, Devon and Cornwall coastline. The British fireworks championships are held here annually. The Royal Citadel watches over the harbour, a 17th century fortress, intended to repel the Dutch. Plymouth Barbican is in the old harbour area; the Jewel in Plymouths’ crown, these days shops and restaurants. The Mayflower steps are from where the pilgrim fathers launched from. Royal William Yard was once the stores for the Royal Navy now restored to provide marine berths, commercial premises and residence.
The vast expanse of Dartmoor is where natural and ancient history co exist. Granite Tors and ancient architecture are the play area for hardy wild Dartmoor Ponys, and rivers are crossed by scattered medieval stone bridges. The valley woodlands are rich with bird life whilst the rugged and windy uplands afford some staggering views. High Willhays is the highest point in Dartmoor at 2000 ft above sea level. Dartmoor has the largest concentration of Bronze age remains in the UK – Grimspound is one of hundreds of enclosed settlements from 1450 to 700 BC with the remains of the homes of the settlers inside, some complete with hearths, the conical thatched roof existing only in visitors’ imagination.
Central Wistmans wood is one of the the highest Oak woodlands in Britain, its trees surrounded by ‘Clitter’, the remains of granite Tors broken up by the elements. The volume of Clitter makes access for animals difficult and so its plant life is preserved.
The National Trusts’ Castle Drogo and garden is a melodramatic country house completed in 1930 by Sir Edwin Lutyens near to Drewsteignton in the North of Dartmoor. Medieval and Tudor periods have been mimicked, giving rise to decorative defences, arched passages ways and vaulted ceilings. Miles of woodland walks along winding paths surround the castle house, above the Teign gorge. Drewsteignton itself is a picture postcard village of thatched cottages, spanned by a Tudor bridge. Julius Drewe of Castle Drogo is buried here, with a memorial by Lutyens.
Widecombe fair made famous the Easterly village of Widecombe in the moor, associated with the Devon folk song: ‘Tom Pearce’ featuring the chorus ‘Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all’. The village is swathed in the midst of a valley, warmed by green rolling countryside and overseen by granite tors. The 14th century church is known locally as ‘the Cathedral of the moors’.
Doting son, William Whitley’s memorial to his Mother is literally immortalised in time on the clock face of the church at Buckland in the moor. The 1931 timepiece reads from nine o’clock: ‘My Dear Mother’. The village, largely built of local Dartmoor stone with its nestled thatched cottages, would not be out of place on a mantle piece. Buckland Beacon rises to give commanding and some of the very best views from Dartmoor. The ten commandments have been engraved in the stone at its summit.
The East and West Dart tributaries collide at Dartmeet. Our ancestors built the clapper bridge here, flat slabs of stone supported on piers Picnickers take advantage of this beauty spot, whilst children play jubilantly in the shallow waters.
Dartmoor Zoo spans 33 acres in the South Hams countryside and woodland landscape, located between between Dartmoor and just 15 minutes from Plymouth. The animal kingdom is represented by ambassadors from reptiles to big cats and most in between. The amount of open space simply must be taken advantage of whilst enjoying free play and a picnic.
In the next blog, we move North to the Birthplace of the Bard, Stratford-upon-Avon
See these places and more
These places and many others are listed as markers on the map on our home page. Places to visit in the UK and Ireland. www.touring-britain.heralded.co.uk